Women's tennis: between resignation and protest over 'inevitable' Saudi boost. GETTY IMAGES

Saudi Arabia is looking to boost the sport in the country by appointing Rafa Nadal as an ambassador, while some tennis players are concerned about the global exposure a country "where women are not treated equally" can gain. Whether Saudi Arabia will host the WTA Finals remains to be seen.

This is a strategic move for the future for Saudi Arabia. It is a blank cheque to have a global figure like Rafa Nadal on their side. The prestige and image that the Spanish player represents is unquestionable. That's why Caroline Wozniacki said last Wednesday that it was "inevitable" that more top-level tournaments would be held in the Arab country. 

Women's tennis officials are already considering holding the season-ending WTA Finals there. "I haven't read a lot about Rafa and what he's doing, but Saudi Arabia is coming into the world of sport in a very strong way. I think in golf, football and now tennis." Wozniacki, who is making a comeback after having two children, said in Melbourne.

Rafa Nadal has become an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. GETTY IMAGES
Rafa Nadal has become an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. GETTY IMAGES

The choice of Nadal as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation is in line with the kingdom's desire to host more Grand Slam tennis tournaments as part of a strategy to boost the sport. "I think it's inevitable that it will happen. And I think when it happens, we have a chance to make a change and do something good there. Nadal himself was enthusiastic about his new appointment. 

He said. "Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia you can see growth and progress and I'm excited to be a part of that," said the 37-year-old Spaniard, who has won 22 Grand Slams, the second most in tennis history behind Novak Djokovic. 

Sport is a key part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030, which aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a tourism and business hub while weaning the world's biggest oil exporter off fossil fuels.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have spoken out about the lack of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. GETTY IMAGES
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have spoken out about the lack of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. GETTY IMAGES

But the country has been accused by critics of using sport to boost its international reputation. Its record on human rights and the environment has been widely criticised. "I'm obviously aware, you know, human rights and everything," Wozniacki said, "but I think if it's inevitable that they have so much money to put into sport, maybe when you're in that situation you can change and do something positive."

Swiatek said: "The issue is not clear. "There have been a lot of rumours about the WTA Finals going to Saudi Arabia. We're still waiting for the decision." She said at the Australian Open. "It's always been hard for me to say if it's a good thing or not, because it's not easy for women in those areas. Obviously these countries want to change and improve politically. It's not easy to decide.

The decision on the WTA Finals is still up in the air, but according to Sports Illustrated on Wednesday, tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, two of the greatest players in tennis history, have sent a letter to WTA CEO Steve Simon urging him to avoid Saudi Arabia. "Not only is this a country where women are not considered equal, it is a country that criminalises the LGBTQ community," the letter reads, according to the magazine. 

"The letter went on to insist on the defence of human rights and equality. "This is a country whose record on human rights and fundamental freedoms has been an international concern for decades. It would be a significant step backwards, to the detriment of the WTA, women's sport and women, to move the WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia." In response, the WTA, the governing body of women's tennis, said in a statement sent to AFP:

"We are in discussions with various groups regarding the 2024 WTA Finals and beyond and have made no decisions at this time. "As with all WTA decisions, we are working closely with the players and our focus is on continuing to build a strong future for women's tennis," it added.